BY AJ TRAGER
Caption: Vanessa Williams and Rebecca Bartaway tie the knot July 7 before their friend Charlene. Rev. Deb Dysert officiated the ceremony at Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit.
DETROIT – Marriages have been popping up all over Michigan since the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that made it legal for same-sex couples to finally get married. Many LGBT couples have waited decades, often lifetimes, to benefit from the legal protections granted to opposite-sex couples and to be seen as equal in the eyes of the law.
Before the existence of Match.com and Grindr, it wasn't uncommon to find an LGBT personal ad amongst newspaper classifieds. The language was often coded to hide the sexuality of the author and led to the success of finding dates and even long-lasting relationships.
Thirty-five years ago, Rebecca Bartaway responded to a personal ad in a Detroit newspaper and decided to meet the author for coffee. Little did she know that she would legally marry the woman of her dreams, Vanessa Williams, in 2015.
"She is a very interesting person, deep thinker. She had a funny attitude. She had a funny personality and we clicked," Bartaway said.
The two of them have spent three decades caring for one another through college degrees, health complications, retiring from the U.S. Air Force and planning end of life services. As an interracial couple, Bartaway says that they haven't received a great deal of discrimination in the Detroit area but do notice the occasional "look." They're a couple who has been to hell and back, she says, and are grateful to have been saved from the derogatory statements that are commonly used against LGBT couples, specifically interracial LGBT couples.
Williams served in the U.S. Air Force for 36 years, six months and two days and convinced Bartaway to join the service. "I got tired of going to drill weekends by myself," she jokes.
Bartaway, who came from a military family, eventually served for six years in Selfridge Air National Guard Base and then went on to be a semi truck driver. She is now pursuing her second master's degree in education with the goal of working with nonprofit organizations, serving at an animal shelter or working somewhere that deals with human rights and social issues.
Williams spends her retirement working two days at Pet Smart and volunteers her extra free hours at the Dearborn Animal Shelter. Together they take care of their two Siberian huskies and their freshwater tank full of angel fish.
Ten years ago, before a large group of family and friends, Williams and Bartaway affirmed their devotion in a commitment ceremony officiated by Rev. Deb Dysert at the Divine Peace. The ceremony was elegant and grandiose with a reception to match. "We had the whole nine yards," Bartaway said.
"When marriage was finally legal I said, 'Why don't we just go through with it?' If Rev. Deb is still receptive, I'd like to have her officiate," Bartaway said. So, on July 7 they became legal spouses before an audience of one: Bartaway's long-time friend, Charlene.
"I am relieved that we are official! Before this, when there would be legal happenings, we'd have to have powers of attorneys and now she's my wife — my spouse. We don't have to worry about anything medical; we have relief from so many of those worries," Williams said.
When asked about the secret to a lifelong partnership, Bartaway said the key is in good, solid communication and honesty.
"We respect each other and we are in love. We make mistakes. If one of us is feeling down, the other picks them up. We mesh and we don't really have any major issues. We have good communication, and we talk about what's bothering us," Bartaway said.